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Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan Photo by: Reuters

Ireland’s unlikely hero: Finance Minster Brian Lenihan

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Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan Photo by: Reuters

He has 10,000 Facebook friends all wishing him well, is by far the most popular politician in Ireland but is highly unlikely to ever get the top job in Irish politics that most feel he deserves.

Brian Lenihan, 51, is the Irish politician in the eye of the storm, the Minister for Finance in a country that has become  the butt of jokes for late night comedians.

He is also the beleaguered government’s top performer , the ace in the hole for the Fianna Fail/Labor coalition, vastly outshining the prime minister Brian Cowen in popularity.

He is also suffering from pancreatic cancer, considered almost incurable.

When he was diagnosed with the condition he gave a radio interview that has meant he has captured the Irish imagination and affection since.

In that interview he didn’t utter a word of self pity or seek to minimize the dreadful battle he had ahead of him.

The news of his disease had been blurted out  in the media before he told some members of his own family. Despite that  he never showed any animosity or desire to shut the media  out.

Instead he gave the facts quite dispassionately and assured the country that he could battle his cancer and also serve as finance minister at a time when the world appeared to be collapsing around him.

He has been true to his word , battling a hostile international financial system , media scepticism about Ireland’s ability to escape the death throes of Anglo-irish Bank, and his own disease.

A measure of the respect he is held in is that he was asked by the Michael Collins Commemoration Committee to give the oration at the annual ceremony honoring Ireland’s greatest patriot.

The Michael Collins invitation had never been issued to a Fianna Fail member before. The party traces its ancestry to the men who shot Michael Collins that day long ago in Beal na Blath and have always been anathema to the Collns family and followers.

Brian Lenihan carried off the assignment with aplomb. He also has impressed with the financial portfolio and last Thursday finally came the fundamental information that the country had desperately been seeking.

The country was in hock for $65 billion and  a four –year plan was in the works to get the finances back on even keel.

The financial markets seemed to steady and there was a sens at last of ground zero being reached after months of uncertainity about how much was actually owed.

It was another stellar performance from Lenihan, one that won him 69 per cent approval rating in a Sunday Independent poll.

It was the kind of numbers no other politician in Ireland could even dream of and there is no doubt he would be odds on to be leader of Fianna Fail if circumstances were different.

Instead he continues to face two mighty battles, turning around the economy and stablizing his health. Even his most hardline political opponents wish him well on both.

In a country starving for genuine heroes, Brian Lenihan, part of a government that led Ireland into an unfathomable financial crisis, is one.
It is just one more unusual twist in what is an incredible personal saga.

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